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Hot Dogs for Cultural Acceptance in Minneapolis

Hot dogs are tasty, but can they build cultural acceptance? A food-cart entrepreneur thinks so.

Labor Day may mark the end of the United States' unofficial hot dog season, but a new a line of hot dog carts in Minneapolis is just getting started. Halal Hotdogs is a collaboration between MFA candidate Brian Wiley and leaders from the city's Somali community. Wiley came up with the concept in his social design class at the Minneapolis College for Art and Design as a way to build acceptance for Somali culture in the greater community by using food as a catalyst.

While Minneapolis's Somali population is the largest of any city in the nation, its relations with other local communities are not always harmonious. According to Wiley, "a lot of teenage boys had gone back to Mogadishu to fight for Al-Shabaab,” the Islamist militant group attempting to overthrow Somalia's government. “And then as a reaction, the FBI infiltrated that community. So there’s a lot of mistrust.”

Wiley and his partners developed the idea of a Somali-operated Halal hot dog cart " as a way to celebrate Somali culture and change its perception here in the Twin Cities. Halal’s a very Muslim thing. Hot dogs are a very American thing."

But they realized that the project could also serve as an opportunity to learn about entrepreneurship for young Somali men that may otherwise struggle to find meaningful work. Food carts just became legal in Minneapolis, so the market is wide open, Wiley says. Now there are plans to open up a for-profit cart this fall as well as a non-profit one that will anchor a business-skills training program.

Wiley is quick to credit the Somali community for the project's rapid growth. “I’m much more of an adviser at this point," he says.

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